You Say Marriage, I Say Civil Union

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Although he supports a constitutional amendment to stop gay marriage, President Bush says he disagrees with his party's opposition to gay civil unions. "I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state chooses to do so," he recently told Charles Gibson on Good Morning America. "I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as…a union between a man and a woman. Now, having said that, states ought to be able to have the right to pass laws that enable people to be able to have rights like others."

This sounds a lot like the "marriage in all but name" that worries social conservatives. It's a mistake to conflate the institution of marriage with the relatively recent legal arrangements that put the government's stamp of approval on certain unions. But if you assume that marriage is a creation of the state, as proponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment apparently do, it's hard to see much of a difference between permitting same-sex marriage and giving gay couples "rights like others." What is civil marriage, after all, except a bundle of rights and privileges?

It's possible that Bush is being deliberately ambiguous. Perhaps the "rights like others" he has in mind do not include, say, the right to adopt children. But he seems to be saying he would let the states make such determinations, provided they do not use the m-word. Maybe the government simply should avoid the term altogether.

NEXT: Kerry's Hait-Speech

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  1. Let me see if I get this straight: After all this uproar, the President supports legal arrangements that have all of the legal benefits of marriage aside from the m-word? And the social status of those relationships would be worked out privately by couples, churches, families, friends, etc.?

    All this trouble and posturing in order to finally agree on something so innocuous? All that ink spilled only to have the President essentially endorse the arrangement worked out in Vermont?

    That’s so incredibly reasonable of him that I have to wonder why he bothered will all the hoopla of an amendment. I mean, if all he wants is an amendment that regulates the use of a particular word, we might as well do like the French and have an academy that regulates the language.

    Am I the only person who thinks it’s silly to amend the Constitution to regulate the use of a single word? I mean, I can understand why some people might want to amend the Constitution to regulate behavior. I don’t agree, but I can see why they might bring out the big guns to ensure that certain laws aren’t passed, certain contracts aren’t permitted, etc. But amending the Constitution over a single word? One fucking word?

  2. Hopefully we’re getting close to the day the fundies will come out in favor of civil unions for gay and straight couples and return marriage to the free exercise of religion where it belongs.

  3. Karl Rove wanted the amendment, to shore up the Christian Coalition vote.

    Trying to find logic in a fundie voting pattern is a fool’s errand.

  4. Oh Jesus, of course he doesn’t mean it. Probably only God knows what George really thinks about gays (I’m not even sure George knows), but this particular statement is nothing more than Bush’s latest “Oh shit” moment.

    He’s realized he can’t win with his base alone, and decided to reach out to moderates a bit. It’s about as blatant a pander as you can imagine (not to mention a “flip-flop”, I mean “bold leadership”), and about as effective as a fan in Hell.

    It’s a week before the election. I somehow doubt he can fit into his old’ “compassionate conservative” suit.

  5. Isn’t this ill-advised of the president? I mean, if I understand the campaign coverage correctly, Bush has been doing his darndest to make sure the evangelical vote comes out in greater numbers than last time, but here he springs something that’s bound to disappoint at least some of them right before the election. And dude, Andrew Sullivan already endorsed John Kerry, it’s too late to get that guy back. So what gives?

  6. So Bush is AGAINST marriage for homosexuals, FOR anti-sodomy laws; applicable only to homosexuals, but FOR legitimizing relationships in which such behavior is practiced?

    That’s like saying he’s for legalizing the cultivation of weed, but against allowing people to smoke it.

    My money is still on him not getting the gay vote in Florida.

  7. But if you assume that marriage is a creation of the state, as proponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment apparently do…

    I am sure that at least some of them think that marraige is the creation of god(s), and that the state’s role is to protect the institution as it was originally defined by the man up in the clouds.

    thoreau,

    Spot on commentary.

  8. “FOR anti-sodomy laws”

    I haven’t heard of the President endorsing anti-sodomy laws. Is there some statement of his where he expressed his approval?

  9. Get government out of the marriage business. Let the institution fall back to its religious origins for those so inclined. If the x church wants to marry only white heterosexuals, so be it. If the y church wants to marry women and their “animal companions,” so be it. Freedom of religion and association allow people to join or leave churches based on any number of criteria including marital philosophy.

    Take the State out of the equation and married couples (or groups) could still use the power of attorney or other legal arrangements to give a spouse (or spouses) a fair number of legal rights. Such a system would also end the unfair discrimination against single people.

  10. How does President Bush feel about slavery, so long as the State in question says it’s okay?

  11. Torq,

    Bush’s Attorney General filed a brief in favor of the State of Texas when two men convicted under its sodomy laws appealed to the Supreme Court. He also touted his support for sodomy laws when he ran for governor in Texas.

  12. Is it true Bush once said he’s against the marriage of homo sapiens?

  13. GW has the Jesus freaks and war hawks in his back pocket. Time to get some of the wishy washy conservatives to come back on board.
    IDL

  14. Bush winds up in the right place, getting it from his faith, but then his faith, like most good religions, is a poetization of ethics, and a man of good will winds up with the right ethical choice.

    The deal here is that we don’t know what marriage means exactly. We have more or less settled that between a man and a woman, and the arrival of children, certain benefits of marriage are a good idea, in how they are treated.

    Those benefits arrived in a chemical calculation for exactly that circumstance, and that’s all we know about it, lacking so far a poet of marriage to explain it. It’s encoded in common sense, and ordinary life, but it not easy to analyze.

    On the other hand, you can see (Bush can see, anybody can see) that gay couples ought to have a right to do certain things like see each other when sick, arrange each other’s affairs, and so forth, without people standing in the way, if that’s what they want.

    So, Bush says, treat it as its own problem, and do what you vote to do, and change it the way you want to then change it after a little experience, and do it all with no impact on what has already been found to work for man-and-woman marriage (which we do not have a theory for, but have an arrangement that works for).

    That doesn’t give gays what they might have been angling for, acceptance under penalty of law – but why can’t they make their case for the benefits they want. If it’s a good idea, it will get done. If they can’t make a case, well so be it. It seems easy to do to me.

  15. Anyone else notice Powell’s remarks about Taiwan today? Talk about throwing gas on the fire.

    “There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy.”

    Everyone is bending over backwards to take it up the ass for mainland China.

  16. Ron Hardin,

    The deal here is that we don’t know what marriage means exactly.

    Marraige is a social construct. It means what humans say that it means.

    We have more or less settled that between a man and a woman, and the arrival of children, certain benefits of marriage are a good idea, in how they are treated.

    I don’t think that the issue is “settled” at all; indeed, like all social constructs the notion of marraige remains in flux over time. Indeed, if it were “settled,” we wouldn’t be having this discussion about what marraige should mean, etc.

    Those benefits arrived in a chemical calculation for exactly that circumstance, and that’s all we know about it, lacking so far a poet of marriage to explain it.

    The historical nature of marraige is a heavily studied area and we are well informed regarding it. But since you plead ignorance, I don’t see any reason to take your comments seriously from this point on.

    It’s encoded in common sense, and ordinary life, but it not easy to analyze.

    Sorry, appeals to “common sense” and “ordinary life” strike me as fallacious appeals to popularity or common practice that hold little merit, in part because they are wholly unsubstantiated.

    So, Bush says, treat it as its own problem, and do what you vote to do, and change it the way you want to then change it after a little experience, and do it all with no impact on what has already been found to work for man-and-woman marriage…

    Let me get this straight, society is supposed to prejudice all human relations in favor of marraige, and only those relations which do not “impact” “man and woman marraige” should be considered lawful?

    …(which we do not have a theory for, but have an arrangement that works for).

    An arrangement which has changed considerably over time, which suggests that said arrangement is not remotely as set in stone as you appear to imply.

    …but why can’t they make their case for the benefits they want.

    Because bigots don’t want them to share in such benefits, and suggest that anything which “impacts” on “man and woman marraige” should never become law.

  17. “Marraige”…

    your insistent and repeated misspelling of the word “marriage” seems somehow… french to me.

  18. Ron Hardin explicitly creates an impossible standard for those in favor of even civil unions to meet.

    Let me quote him once again:

    …and do it all with no impact on what has already been found to work for man-and-woman marriage…

    A “no impact” standard virtually nullifies any attempt to create even the most anemic civil unions law, because surely at least some aspects of that civil unions law will have an “some” impact on marraige as Ron Hardin defines it, even if that impact is at best very slight (note that we haven’t even gotten involved in how to measure such “impact” – which by itself would cause endless delay in the enactment of a civil union law).

  19. So, can anyone give me a legitmate reason why government should be involved in marriage in the first place? Why does the State need to approve any contract between two persons?

  20. Brian Cook,

    Mine?

  21. Jose,

    Because no one has found the “poet” of marriage. 🙂

  22. It’s a big victory for gays and lesbians that Bush says he’s not opposed to state-by-state recognition of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Sure, no new rights were conferred by Bush’s mere statement, but Bush’s statement marks a tidal wave of progress for gay and lesbian Americans.

    It is important that Bush mentioned rights in his statement. This frames the issue of civil marriage for gays and lesbians as about individual rights. Bush and others have been framing the issue as about protecting children and traditional values – which is not only more difficult to challenge but is also very dangerous for gays and lesbians. Turning gays and lesbians into threats against children and society is a low form of propaganda.

    Bush has taken a stand that puts the redefinition of marriage “rights” front center in this debate. We should use this as a reframing opportunity that will help extend civil marriage rights to gays and lesbians under the full and equal protection of the law.

    Just say It: Homosexuality is a Crime against Nature

    George Good for the Gays?

  23. there have been plenty of poets of love. now that marriages are often conducted out of love – even if its just a love of dinner theatre! – we can slide them over. but a poet of marriage is still just a poet of love, unless you could find some bureaucratic troubador composing verse about licenses and fees.


  24. So, can anyone give me a legitmate reason why government should be involved in marriage in the first place? Why does the State need to approve any contract between two persons?

    I think precedent was set when Utah’s inclusion in the union was dependent on their aquiescence to rewrite the word of their sky pixie and adopt binary marriage. In any social structure where government plays a part in legislating ethics and morality, it is inevitable that one group’s standards will override another’s.

    I think the answer to your question lies in the fact that it is only the liberty minded of us who ask the question you do: Why does the State need to approve any contract between two persons? The rest of the populace is busy trying to make the State approve their version of that contract. The answer to your question is then – because there are more people who want the State to legitimize their contracts than there are people who want the State out of their contracts. It is a reflection on the majority of the population who seeks approval of Leviathan for their very existence.

    We are in the minority. With the statist stranglehold on education and schools, I don’t expect that situation to change.

  25. Rather than seeking approval of Leviathan for their validation, I think it’s more seeking the power of Leviathan to smite those who do not hew to their code. By forcing acknowledgement of their one true meaning, they thereafter drive out all others. Since those in power are then loathe to give up such power, those outside seek to be included, since that’s easier than tossing the powerful out altogether.

  26. What about me?

    Marriage

    Should I get married? Should I be Good?
    Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustaus hood?
    Don’t take her to movies but to cemeteries
    tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
    then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
    and she going just so far and I understanding why
    not getting angry saying You must feel! It’s beautiful to feel!
    Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
    and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky–

    etc.

  27. “We are in the minority. With the statist stranglehold on education and schools, I don’t expect that situation to change.”

    Amen, brother metal

  28. After all this uproar, the President supports legal arrangements that have all of the legal benefits of marriage aside from the m-word?

    What he said is that he supports allowing states to decide to make such legal arrangements, not that he himself supports them.

    But amending the Constitution over a single word? One fucking word?

    I think you’re forgetting that a lot of the FMA supporters backed it because they were afraid the courts would force states that *didn’t* want to recognize gay marriage or civil unions to do so. So, no, it’s not just about “one fucking word” to those people.

    Tom –

    It is important that Bush mentioned rights in his statement. This frames the issue of civil marriage for gays and lesbians as about individual rights.

    That depends on what you mean by “individual rights”. If you mean “inherent rights”, then no, I don’t think that’s what Bush meant. He doesn’t seem, to me, to be endorsing an inherent right to marry or join in a civil union. It seems to me that he’s saying that states can *create* a right to form civil unions, if they see fit to do so.

    It’s like saying “I’m 70 years old, I have a right to collect social security”. That doesn’t mean I have some inherent right to live on the dole; it means that, legally, I’m entitled to that money.

  29. “Civil unions are a government endorsement of homosexuality,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women For America. “But I don’t think President Bush has thought about it in that way. He seems to be striving for neutrality while defending marriage itself.” (AP)

    The activists who are disgusted by gays and lesbians are more concerned about the redefinition of homosexuality than they are about the definition of civil marriage. By extending civil marriage to include gay and lesbian couples, society is voicing greater tolerance towards gays and lesbians.

  30. “..and do it all with no impact on what has already been found to work for man-and-woman marriage…”

    A “no impact” standard virtually nullifies any attempt to create even the most anemic civil unions law, because surely at least some aspects of that civil unions law will have an “some” impact on marraige as Ron Hardin defines it, even if that impact is at best very slight (note that we haven’t even gotten involved in how to measure such “impact” – which by itself would cause endless delay in the enactment of a civil union law).

    I don’t follow. Perhaps I have stated it unclearly. I’ll try again.

    We have a treatment for flu. Colds need a treatment. Let’s use the treatment for flu, for colds. Well, maybe it doesn’t work for colds. If we change it for that reason, there’s no reason to change it for flu. It works for flu.

    Likewise, there’s no reason to make rules for man-woman marriage subject to what works (what we find to work) for gay unions.

    Presumably both can manage each other’s affairs. I don’t know that we necessarily want inheritance rules to be the same; nor a lot of things. We ought to be able to make the case for each benefit for the case at hand, and not change working rules for man-woman marriage.

    You can change them too, but that’s their own argument, not changing gay union rules.

    It’s two cases, not one. Keep it two cases.

    Having said that (and it’s what Bush is saying), what is the argument with sick visitation, and such things. It seems okay to me. Make the case, take it to the voters, and enjoy it.

    If you can’t make the case, then you can’t make the case. It doesn’t affect man-woman marriage, which is a different agreement. One voted in, incidentally.

  31. Ron Hardin,

    I don’t follow. Perhaps I have stated it unclearly. I’ll try again.

    You statement, and my response, were pretty clear. You stated categorically that “no impact” should be allowed; that specifically means that heterosexual marraiges should have a postive prejudice in relation to homosexual marraiges or unions. Sorry, you can’t claim on the one hand that you want to create a positive prejudiece, but on the other hand try to disclaim this very thing.

    We have a treatment for flu. Colds need a treatment. Let’s use the treatment for flu, for colds. Well, maybe it doesn’t work for colds. If we change it for that reason, there’s no reason to change it for flu. It works for flu.

    This would mean that unions between homosexuals and heterosexuals differ; but do they? Aside from the issue of procreation, they really don’t. And given the fact that gay people can procreate with another person, and then live in homosexual unions with that offspring and choose to have the non-conceiving party legally adopt that offspring, that gets around the procreative issue as well (as would perhaps future technology).

    Likewise, there’s no reason to make rules for man-woman marriage subject to what works (what we find to work) for gay unions.

    And there’s no reason to differentiate them either. Indeed, given that your house of cards is based on the assumption that they must be differentiated, your failure to actually explain why that’s the case doesn’t engender much confidence in your arguments.

    It’s two cases, not one. Keep it two cases.

    Why? Again, justify why this must be (besides crap arguments about non-existance of a “poet” of marraige and like bullshit). Justify your assumptions or shut up.

  32. (A)Shit Deeper In Massachusetts

    (B)Shit Deeper in Texas

    (C)Ralph Nader

    Your Vote:
    ______

  33. This is an issue where semantics matter. Based on my experience, gays and lesbians want more than just the material benefits of a civil union; they want the social validation that comes with the word “marriage.” The two groups fighting here are a cultural Israel and Palestine and “marriage” is the West Bank.

    There are times (many times, actually) where government does not have the solution. This is a case where government should step out of the culture war and let society decide. Over time, American culture will sort out the issue. Until then, I suggest the best approach is a bag of popcorn and a good seat.

  34. I think that we should frame this as a victory – instead of going after Bush. He used the term “rights” when discussing the issue, and this matters in terms of how the issue is framed. I won’t vote for him, and doubt this will move many to his side. But I do think that this provides an opportunity to better frame the issue of civil marriage rights in our favor.

    One thing that liberals need to learn from neo-conservatives is how to better frame issues in terms favorable to the desired outcome. A good example is how anti-gay rights advocates have seized the movement for extending civil marriage rights as a way to bolster the religious political base and to oppose civil rights for gays and lesbians. They use message discipline along with discourse framing to get their message across – regardless of how their views are reported.

  35. Jose Ortega y Gasset,

    Excellent comments.

    So do you think that Jose Ortega y Gasset was a crypto-fascist?

  36. This contraversy always brings me back to a memory of my marriage. My wife is Catholic, and I’m Presbyterian. One Catholic Church refused to marry us. My wife said to her father that, “well we can get married at the Presybterian Church.” His response was that well we would really be married then.

    What amuses me is that, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, in the eyes of the Catholic Church you are only really married (i.e. enjoyed the sacrament of marriage) if you were married in the Catholic Church. Everything else is simply a false religious ceremony with a secular contract. It’s not a position that is enforced, but the hard core believe it.

    My marriage has two documents one is filed with the state the other is filed in an arch diocese some where in Pennsylvania. Essentially as far as one church sees it I have a civil union, and a spiritual one. I can divorce civilly, but can’t spiritually (an annalment is their work around, I guess).

    The point of my little anecdote is that it really isn’t much of a stretch for the government to recognize that churches mind their business (and I think most keep a religious certificate of marriage on file), and the government minds theirs. When it gets right down to it the only reason that civil marriage has value is to keep the churches from fighting over whether or not to recognize each others ceremonies. Deep down I doubt most want to do that anyway.

  37. I have the sneaking suspicion that what this is really all about is “Don’t ask don’t tell” and the future of the draft.

  38. raymond,

    Care to explain your reasoning, or are you just being snarky? 🙂

  39. Deron,

    Interesting comments.

    My wife and I got a Unitarian-Universalist to marry us. Neither of us belonged to that church (I’m an atheist and she’s a very unstructured theist), but it sounded like he would marry anyone for $100. 🙂 The one minister she knew – a hard shell Baptist – wouldn’t touch our marraige without my becoming a Christian. In retrospect, I wish she and I had simply said our vows to each other – but that might have been pushing it, in light of the fact that she never took my name and other such radical things which surrounded our marraige vows.

  40. Care to explain your reasoning, or are you just being snarky?

    “I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights.”

    I find this statement very curious. He wants to change the Basic Law – which is what determines legal arrangements – but not give the federal government the power to determine those legal arrangements.

    It’s possible that Bush is being deliberately ambiguous.

    I am one of those who believe that Bush says and does what he’s told to say and do. When he does come out with some unintended zinger (“We will not have an all-volunteer army”), it’s only because his handlers have failed to keep the strings tight for a moment. In other words, when Bush’s mouth moves, what we’re hearing are the words of Rumsfeld, Rove, Ashcroft, Cheney.

    I doubt very much that Bush feels sympathy for the rights of gay people. I would go so far as to suspect a certain distaste for gay people on his part.

    Texas is one of a handful of states that singles out gay people by banning adult sexual intimacy only between people of the same sex. Gov. George W. Bush has publicly supported the sodomy law, calling it a “symbol of traditional values” and said that he would veto any attempt to overturn the law legislatively. The state Republican Party platform also explicitly opposes the decriminalization of sodomy, stating that “the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society” and “contributes to the breakdown of the family unit.”

    (Sodomy Laws, June 8, 2000)

    So why this sudden conciliatory tone?

    When Clinton instituted the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, he institutionalized a new sort of hypocrisy in the military. (Some people accused him of selling out. I don’t believe he sold out. I think he never strongly believed in “gays in the military” or “gays are equal” in the first place. But that’s another issue.)

    If I’m not mistaken, the result of “don’t ask don’t tell” was an increase in the number of people drummed out of the service for homosexuality. I suppose some of those were cases of gay soldiers who decided the military wasn’t for them – just as, during Vietnam, gay people were able to avoid the draft because they were gay. But many of them weren’t. Many of them were just the result of witch-hunts.

    (I don’t have time to do the research to back up these statements, so I can’t cite my sources. I read this somewhere.) In time of war, discharges for homosexuality are rare. During WWII there were American companies in Africa and Italy with “out” soldiers who had no problem living their lives – until after hostilities ended.

    This makes sense, of course, since “troops” are not important as human beings but as pieces on the game board. Who cares if your pawn is bent, so long as he can take or be sacrificed.

    “Don’t ask don’t tell” and courts martial for homosexuality are peacetime luxuries.

    Today, US forces are stretched exceedingly thin. So thin that there’s that “back-door draft” Kerry has talked about. (And whether one likes the term or not, soldiers are being forced to serve longer than they’d expected to.) So thin, in fact, that some 800 British troops are being moved up north to replace Americans who will be involved in the coming attack on Fallujah.

    Let’s say there are 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Let’s say that 1% of these troops have engaged in homosexual behaviour or are actually “gay”. (I think that’s probably a pretty conservative estimate.) That would make 1,300 soldiers ripe for immediate discharge. Who would replace these troops? The British, who ended their ban on gays in the military in 2000?

    (Despite all the talk of taxes and health insurance and education, what is THE issue of this election? Iraq. All politics may be local, but thanks to the mess this administration has made, Iraq is suddenly just down the street.)

    So what have we got? A military in crisis. A president who truly believes that gays “tear at the fabric of society” but who suddenly discovers that he needs to keep his gay soldiers sweet or face an even greater crisis.

    Can this president really say: “Hey, we think you’re all disgusting perverts. Please fight for Liberty, Justice, and the American Way”?

    I think that if this president is re-elected there is a very real possibility of a draft. If that does happen, then what gay people think will be irrelevant and Bush will be able to go back to appeasing his Christian base. But if there is no draft, “don’t ask don’t tell” will be finished. At least until the next time of peace.

    Care to explain your reasoning, or are you just being snarky?

    Now don’t you wish you hadn’t asked?

  41. ps – I tried to find the source I was talking about above, but without luck (so far. I do have a life).

    I did find these sites, which I found interesting:

    Stop Loss

    SLDN Survival Guide

    A little history

    It’s all rather… horrible.

  42. raymond-
    I am overly tired of this bullshit draft talk. The draft scarred the US so deep during Viet Nam that there is absolutely no chance of restarting it. No matter how many lefty chat room postings there are about the draft comming back it wont happen. There are more than enough US solders worldwide (in I believe over 700 bases) to handle Iraq and Afghanistan. If it took a draft you would see support in the US evaporate overnight.

  43. You are, as usual, ignoring the real point of my post.

  44. “If it took a draft you would see support in the US evaporate overnight.”

    Isn’t that why the left keeps raising the issue? It seems reasonable that they might ask are you in favor of the war in Iraq? Yes. Are you in favor of a draft to support the war? No. How do you reconcile the two?

    I have a tough time guaging how much support the war really has. As long as people aren’t watching t.v. or reading the papers they seem to be all for it. As long as they don’t have to worry about a draft, and it is largely put on the country’s credit they don’t mind.

    Testing resolve seems like a fair strategy for the Democrats to use. I’d like it better if the Republicans answer was, “this war is worth it because…” Instead we get, “things aren’t that bad.” What if things do get that bad? Make the case that no matter what this war is worth it.

  45. deron-
    ‘are you in favor of the war in Iraq? Yes. Are you in favor of a draft to support the war? No. How do you reconcile the two?’

    I do not support the war in Iraq. However, soldering is just another job. I wouldn’t want to be a proctologist but I’m not going to feel bad for those who chose it as a career.

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